Author Archive | Ian Harris

Trust & dialogue

I’m taking my lead today from Andrew Miller, a London-based blogger and consultant. In his blog yesterday Andrew cited a Harvard Business School article on dialogue and asked "will dialogue build trust?". I’d like to add some thoughts of my own…

Trust is at the very heart of internal communication. It is through communication that we build trust and through trust that we get things done inside organisations.

But research keeps pointing towards a crisis of trust in the workplace. Last year Watson Wyatt reported that just 31% of UK workers have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organisation’s leaders. 

What a appalling statistic! UK business leaders, and their communicators, should hang their heads in shame.

So what do we mean by dialogue and what role can it play in building trust in the workplace?

I often refer to a simple typology developed by Richard Harris.  He describes five types of involvement, ranging from basic information giving (that’s where the decisions have been made and the employee merely has the opportunity to react) to genuinely open dialogue (where the decisions are shared).
I have come across many organisations that would struggle to get beyond stage two (information gathering) and rarely, if ever, engage in a genuine dialogue with their people.
It seems there is a lot of talk of employee consultation (particularly now that it’s a legal requirement under the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations) but that much of it is rhetoric. 
So what can we communicators do to help?
I have said before that I think communicators should take on the role of ‘trust builder’ inside their organisations. 

There’s such an enormous amount we can do to build the credibility of our leaders and managers, to show that we respect our employees, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to highlight the fairness of policies, to share information in an open and transparent way, to explain the rationale behind business decisions, to show that we care, to encourage conversations, to reduce internal ‘spin’, to ensure talk matches walk, to break down internal barriers, to improve the effectiveness of line managers, to involve in local decision making and so on.. 

These are the fundamental building blocks of trust and they’re very much part of our world. 

Trust & dialogue

I’m taking my lead today from Andrew Miller, a London-based blogger and consultant. In his blog yesterday Andrew cited a Harvard Business School article on dialogue and asked "will dialogue build trust?". I’d like to add some thoughts of my own…

Trust is at the very heart of internal communication. It is through communication that we build trust and through trust that we get things done inside organisations.

But research keeps pointing towards a crisis of trust in the workplace. Last year Watson Wyatt reported that just 31% of UK workers have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organisation’s leaders. 

What a appalling statistic! UK business leaders, and their communicators, should hang their heads in shame.

So what do we mean by dialogue and what role can it play in building trust in the workplace?

I often refer to a simple typology developed by Richard Harris.  He describes five types of involvement, ranging from basic information giving (that’s where the decisions have been made and the employee merely has the opportunity to react) to genuinely open dialogue (where the decisions are shared).
I have come across many organisations that would struggle to get beyond stage two (information gathering) and rarely, if ever, engage in a genuine dialogue with their people.
It seems there is a lot of talk of employee consultation (particularly now that it’s a legal requirement under the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations) but that much of it is rhetoric. 
So what can we communicators do to help?
I have said before that I think communicators should take on the role of ‘trust builder’ inside their organisations. 

There’s such an enormous amount we can do to build the credibility of our leaders and managers, to show that we respect our employees, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to highlight the fairness of policies, to share information in an open and transparent way, to explain the rationale behind business decisions, to show that we care, to encourage conversations, to reduce internal ‘spin’, to ensure talk matches walk, to break down internal barriers, to improve the effectiveness of line managers, to involve in local decision making and so on.. 

These are the fundamental building blocks of trust and they’re very much part of our world. 

Asda strike

What’s happening at Asda?

Distribution staff in 20 depots have just voted 3 to 1 in favour of strike action. Union GMB says it’s due to unpaid bonuses and the introduction of new technology that will "harm staff". Asda claim just 1.5% of staff voted. 

This issue has been bubbling away for months and, whichever side is ‘right’ and whatever the numbers involved, I can’t help feeling that Asda’s halo is beginning to slip. 

The retailer, now part of the Walmart empire, was once held up as a shining example of best practice in internal communication and people management.

For many years it was ranked highly in the Great Place to Work surveys, winning first place in 2003.  In 2004 it was ranked third. Last year saw Asda slip to 38th on the list. It didn’t appear at all in this year’s top 50. In my simple mind that looks like a pattern.

Whether perception or reality, Asda clearly has a problem.

Word of mouth..on steroids

Earlier today I bought a copy of Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s excellent book, Naked Conversations (see ‘Recommended reads’ below left).

It’s a book about blogging and how it’s changing the way businesses talk with their stakeholders. But it’s far from dull.

After spending three hours on the train between London and Birmingham, I’m about 150 pages into it.  And I’m beginning to get quite excited about this blogging thing.

The pair describe blogging as ‘word of mouth on steroids’ and, through a series of interviews (based on a series real life and blog-based discussions) outline how blogging is revolutionising corporate communication.

I really do buy what they’re saying. Next to face-to-face, blogs are one of the best ways for individuals within an organisation to have an authentic dialogue with employees, customers and other stakeholders.

It is this authenticity (blogs should be real and uncensored by PROs, lawyers, etc) and dialogue (blogs should be a conversation) that makes blogging such a great way to build trust. 

Trust is the basic ingredient for getting things done inside and outside organisations and, as we’ve seen in the Great Place to Work and Best Companies research, is key to superior performance.

I believe communications are the natural trust builders inside organisations and that’s exactly why we need to understand blogging and help our employers and clients harness its massive potential. 

Mind mapping revisited

I’d forgotten what a fantastic process mind mapping is.

I read Tony Buzan’s book years ago and was, for a short while, an avid user. Then I stopped.

My reawakening came earlier today when I did some work with a client and another specialist supplier, M62 Visual Communications, on reviewing the content, flow and messages contained in a mammoth slide deck. 

M62 recommended we use Mindjet software to capture our thinking. This resulted in the rapid creation of a series of mind maps which will now help us restructure the material, simplfy our messages and ensure there is a clear, logical flow to the overall presentation and the other communication materials that will flow from it.

It’s a tool I commend to fellow communicators.

In our jobs it’s far too easy to get sucked into the detail and to lose sight of the big picture. Using Powerpoint to capture your thinking (in an inevitably linear fashion) isn’t the answer, yet it’s what some many of us rely on.

Mind mapping is far superior. It’s a great tool for capturing thoughts, mapping out messages and, perhaps most importantly, illustrating the multiple connections between different pieces of information. After all, so much of what we do is about alignment (in this case between different ‘layers’ of strategy – group, business unit and function) and flow (e.g. a timeline for rolling out various programmes of work).

If you’re interested in finding out more, check out the following websites:

I’ll definitely be investing in a copy of Mind Manager Pro and using it to capture and clarify my thinking from now on.

Big Brother research?

I’ll admit it, I’ve been watching Big Brother.
For those of you from another planet, BB is the reality TV show in which a bunch of strangers are locked in a house for months in pursuit of hard cash and celebrity.

I used to be a staunch critic; now I’m a convert. It’s just so compelling to watch such a unique social experiment unfold. 

Surely every communicator finds it fascinating to see how relationships form, which people emerge as leaders, what motivates them, how they react to the various challenges thrown at them and how they cope with change?

This weekend saw Grace get evicted.  For weeks we’ve watched her bitch and back-stab. As a result she became public enemy number one and was, predictably, voted out by text message. If only it were so easy to evict a griping colleague from the workplace. Now that would drive employee involvement (not to mention the corporate telephone bill!)

Given that every workplace has its fair share of back-biters, both male and female, I wonder what the workplace equivalent of BB would be like.  Just imagine it… a bunch of strangers locked in an office, told all about BB’s corporate culture, given a few obscure tasks and basically told to get on with it.

Sadly, that’s exactly what some workplaces are like. Just substitute Big Brother for a CEO or line manager who doesn’t think employee communication is part of his or her role. 

And wouldn’t that environment be the ultimate in internal communication research? A real life lab where you could test messages, track understanding of key initiatives and pinpoint how your communication activities translate into day-to-day actions.   

I don’t think Channel 4 will buy it, but if there’s anyone out there with a nice fat research budget, I’d love to help..…

Gunning for gobbledygook

I’ve been working on a strategy document for one of my clients today. This has basically involved taking the output from various workshops, meetings and discussions and translating it into something that will ultimately make sense to employees.

Much as I champion the use of Plain English and abhor jargon and management-speak, I sometimes find myself slipping into it. Every now and again I have to pinch myself and remember what I’m paid to do.

Jargon is essentially lazy and is often used to create a veneer, an impression of technical or intellectual superiority, or simply to blind people to the truth.

As communicators we shouldn’t stand for this. We should put our bullshit radars to good use and do all we can to simplify and clarify communications.

The word gobbledygook, incidentally, was coined by Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer and Congressman. It first appeared in an internal memo in 1944, when Maverick complained about the obscure language used by his colleagues. He stated, “anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot". I can’t help but smile. There are few words that are used more frequently by professional communicators than implementation.

We should all be shot!

Come on England!

Come on England!

After a rather dull first half, Crouch and Gerrard managed to deliver the goods with just minutes to spare. 2-0 against a battle-ready Trinidad & Tobago. So England are through to the final 16 of the World Cup. A hollow victory? Time will tell… for now let’s enjoy the feeling.

Reinvigorating the ICA

I’ve been talking to Stephen Windsor-Lewis this morning. Stephen is chair of the ICA, the internal comms arm of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). I’ve been on the ICA national committee for about four years and during that time we’ve done some fantastic, highly visible and groundbreaking stuff.

But we’ve been a little quiet of late.

Our events programme has been limited and, with a finite amount of cash in the bank, we’ve struggled with to find the appropriate level of admin support to turn our ideas into reality. This is always a risk when an organisation is made up of busy professionals who, no matter how committed they are to the cause, have day jobs to focus on.

But it’s time to reinvigorate the ICA.

With the support of the CIPR we’re close to cracking our admin issue and an exciting programme of activity is just around the corner.

We’re also looking to add new blood to the committee, expanding it and moving towards a more ‘federal’ structure with small groups taking responsibility for specific areas like events, research and education.

The ICA, alongside Communicators in Business (CiB) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), has raised the bar for internal communicators in the UK and helped make our fledgling profession what it is today. We’re committed to continuing with this mission.

If you’re interested in getting involved drop me a line…. and do let me know if you’ve got any great ideas for events or research.

First post

This is my very first post. Until today I was a blogging virgin. But no longer…

There’s so much talk about blogging in communication circles these days. The news of Robert Scoble’s (blog supremo) decision to quit Microsoft today has created a global media storm. This shows just how far blogs have come – they now have the power to create celebrity, build (and destroy) reputations and generate widespread news coverage. The potential is enormous and that’s precisely why anyone in the communication profession needs to roll up their sleeves and get involved. 

So today marks the start of my learning curve. I will no longer sit on the sidelines and merely observe the blogosphere. I will participate.

Frankly I’m gob-smacked at how quick, easy and cheap it is to set up a blog. Using Typepad it’s taken me less than two hours to set up this blog. Not bad for a beginner. Sure, the design is rather dull and there are no links and so on, but there’s plenty of time to perfect it. The important thing is that I’m up and running….